The Canberra Raiders search for a halfback to fit into their 2022 plans hit yet another snag recently when both the Gold Coast Titans and New Zealand Warriors got in the way. Each side rejected the Raiders overtures at their playmakers, and some media suggested that would be it. But Canberra should remain patient. Time is a weapon in their pursuit.
Last week was hectic. It got going when it emerged that the Raiders had reached some sort of agreement to bring Fogarty to Canberra. Initially there didn’t seem to be opposition to the deal at the Titans. Fogarty was destined to be the odd man out in a side that wants to progress Toby Sexton – indeed they have publicly guaranteed him a starting spot in 2022. But after a moment something changed – likely Coach Holbrook got involved – and the Raiders request to pay Fogarty twice what he’s on (a still very team friendly 300k a year) was rebuffed.
The next piece of news was simultaneously exciting as it was depressing. Within moments of the Raiders announcing they were also pursuing Chanel Harris-Tavita, the Warriors almost immediately rebuffed their request for discussion. They have remained steadfast in their belief that Harris-Tavita is a big part of their future.
So the Raiders are left proverbial rooster in hand, naked and waving in the breeze. What next? They can’t possibly go into 2022 expecting the mix of Sam Williams and Matt Frawley to man that position. Such a result would put a concrete slab style roof on their potential for next season, wasting a precious year in the prime of Josh Papalii, and put the good bits of their roster at risk of getting wandering eyes at risk of pillage.
In both circumstances it would benefit the Raiders to remain patient. Despite being contracted until the end of 2023, Fogarty’s time at the Titans seems limited. Sexton is too much of a talent to ignore, as is Jayden Campbell. AJ Brimson fits into that spine mix too. Even if Fogarty retains the starting position in the short term, the drums will keep beating, and eventually the Titans will accede and Fogarty will be on the outside. Hoping that Fogarty will spend the limited time he has as an NRL player toiling away (again) in Q-Cup footy seems comically naive, and will send a message across the league that the Titans value players more as assets than people. Fogarty is represented by an agency that has eight other Titans on their roster, including Sexton and breakout surprise Greg Marzhew (and Bailey Simonsson FYI). The Titans would likely want to keep the relationship strong; and letting Jamal get his much deserved pay day, and playing time, will be the best way to do that.
Harris-Tavita has already mentioned his desire to test his value on the open market. On contract next year, he can sign a deal from 1 November 2021 starting 2023. The Raiders aren’t able to make contact with him without the permission of his contracted club until that date, which as noted was rejected by the Warriors. This of course is ceremonial. Canberra can still talk to his agent, and given they managed to reach something approximating a deal with Fogarty without having to speak directly to him. Regardless, the Warriors are flirting with Ash Taylor, are bringing Shaun Johnson home, and have Kodi Nikorima on the roster, so you can see why Harris-Tavita is keen to see what the market outside the Warriors would offer him.
This may be more of a case of the Raider Raise (shouts to Jack Cronin). With those others on the roster, Harris-Tavita is seeking to find out whether he can make sure the Warriors will pay him for his potential beyond his current deal. He’ll be battling for game time next season, and that could hurt the pay packet on his next deal. So he’ll be keen to sign a deal with someone as soon as he can after 1 November rather than wait to see what the Warriors have planned for him. I’m skeptical as to whether he’ll come to Canberra – or leave New Zealand for that matter – but the wedge of cash that the Raiders may offer may be enough if the Warriors are silly enough to let him slip through their hands. Regardless, between now and November there’s little the Milk can do but wait to make that offer.
In both circumstances the situation is helped by being patient, at least in the short term. It makes sense the Titans would hope to keep a starter-worthy half on nearly minimum money. But that’s only sustainable in the short term. At some point keeping a roster spot for someone who isn’t playing and wants to be elsewhere becomes untenable. It may be soon, it may be during pre-season, it may be next season. The Titans have made their spine choices now, and Fogarty is the odd man out.
There are things Canberra can do to expedite a deal – the obvious choice is offering up Josh Hodgson. This isn’t as easy as it seems. While the Titans need a nine, their interest in attracting Brandon Smith north suggests any deal with Hodgson would only be for 2022. Given Hodgson’s interest is getting a multi-year deal, the Titans would have to convince both he and Smith to repeat logjams they’re leaving to avoid. Hodgson may go north anyway and hope his form solves his contract interest, but it doesn’t feel like the slam dunk some would think it is. Such player trades will remain rare while they require the players accord, something that is a loss for rugby league column inches but good for human rights.
For Harris-Tavita patience is necessary, but not as much as may be needed with Fogarty. The Raiders can make him an offer 1 November for 2023 and beyond, and if he accepts there’s little point in the Warriors holding on to him for depth or development in 2022. Offering Hodgson or not becomes pretty irrelevant at that point, even if the Warriors would be more likely to give him the long-term security he’s after.
The timing works out. The Raiders simply need to wait. In a situation where you have few options sometimes the best thing to do is to wait for better ones to come along, rather than to force decisions of little merit. The best, most realistic, version of the Raiders over the next few years involves either Fogarty or Harris-Tavita at seven, rather than chasing waterfalls or relying on the Williams they’re used to. The Milk need to wait out the Titans, or to see what 1 November brings. At that point the way forward will be much clearer. Hopefully it will be with one of these two playmakers at seven.